Bill Restricting Isolated Confinement Passes House

STATE News:  

  • HB 175 Restricts New Mexico Correctional Facilities’ Use of Outdated & Inhumane Practice

SANTA FE – The New Mexico House of Representatives passed House Bill 175, the Isolated Confinement Act, in a 38-22 vote Saturday evening.

HB 175 restricts the use of isolated confinement in New Mexico prisons and jails for pregnant women, minors and those suffering from severe mental illness. It also sets a 48-hour maximum for isolated confinement in cases of emergency and a five-day maximum upon initial booking.

“Isolated confinement is overused and misused in our great state,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas said. “It is detrimental to public safety. If you put a human being in prolonged isolated confinement, that human will never, ever be the same. That makes us all less safe once that person is back in our community.”

House Bill 175 introduces new reporting requirements for correctional facilities so that county commissions will be kept apprised of the number of inmates held in isolated confinement, as well as the reasons for that confinement. The bill also requires correctional facilities to report all monetary settlements paid out to inmates and former inmates as a result of lawsuits filed against the facility or its employees.

There is a growing body of literature about the disturbing use and effect of isolated confinement on people with mental illness. This bill will put an end to this inhumane and outdated practice in New Mexico,” Rep. Maestas said. “In addition to violating human rights, it’s wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Inmates in isolated confinement spend up to 23 hours a day alone in windowless cells. Isolated confinement can have devastating psychological effects on inmates; studies indicate that it can exacerbate mental illness, trigger new mental disorders, and increase suicide rates.

In New Mexico, the use of isolated confinement has provoked expensive lawsuits. In 2013, Doña Ana County paid more than $15 million to a man who spent 22 months in isolated confinement after being arrested for driving under the influence, which carries a 90 day maximum penalty.

House Bill 175 will be heard next in the Senate.